The family business of jazz is a perilous one. Expectations come high when a child follows the parent's example. Will the offspring be as productive, or will comparisons undermine their prospects before they mature?
Bassist Dave Phillips is the son of improvisatory bass legend Barre Phillips. Such a pedigree is not always a boon. Phillips handles it well by playing much differently than pére, writing his own compelling compositions and, most importantly, assembling a wonderfully cohesive group. The assembly happened more than a decade previous. The group, Freedance, is Phillips on bass, John O'Gallagher on alto, Rez Abbasi on electric and acoustic guitars and Tony Moreno on drums. Prayer,
their second album, is the happy result of all the time the quartet logged together.
Phillips works in the traditional role of the bassist, albeit one who writes all the compositions and adds a healthy amount of creative counterpoint. His technique is solid and unassuming, never doing too much or overstating his case. Freedance is a successful venture - the four players elevate to a unified sound, a stirring reminder of what can occur when groups develop over time.
The album begins rather subtly with "Window." The piece, vaguely ECM-ish, sounds languid and soft but with a tighter jazz sensibility. Abbasi even has John Abercrombie-like moments. O'Gallagher's pure tone gels nicely with Phillips' firm pizzicato. Abbasi, when not soloing, uses chord voicings and effects to play the role of the piano. "Annabella" swings with snaky lines by Abbasi and a lovely arco lead by Phillips. The title track follows, opening with cerebral bass figures followed by a reflective statement by O'Gallagher, augmented towards the end by Abbasi's biting attack until resolving back into quiet.
Phillips' music is worked over into excellent group statements by the quartet. The jerky rhythms of "Thread" come out of the robotic bass line. "Night Owl" is a perky short number with a whimsical melody; "Spilt Milk" follows with an extended bass intro that recalls some the elder Phillips. The song morphs into a fusion blowout featuring Abbasi and Moreno in duo until resolving into the quartet playing the cousin of the theme from "Night Owl."
"Tribute to Stu" is named for the late drummer Stu Martin, with whom Barre Phillips and John Surman had a long-standing trio. The piece begins with a long Moreno solo before a theme that could have been played by his father's trio launches concurrent solos by O'Gallagher and Abbasi. The album closes in the mellow way it began, featuring Abbasi on acoustic guitar for "Circle Above" and recalling his background with Eastern sounds and tonalities on "Incarnation." Prayer demonstrates that music benefits from a slow organic process. Phillips will have a lot to teach to his children if they choose to pick up the bass.
This review originally appeared in All About Jazz-New York
Personnel: Dave Phillips: bass,
John O'Gallagher: alto, Rez Abbasi: electric and
acoustic guitars, Tony Moreno: drums.